Do you have 3 days in New York and are you unsure where to start exploring?
Stop worrying, because this post will guide you to everything you can see and do in that amount of time, with an easy-to-follow itinerary. I promise you that you’ll be able to see the best of the city even in that short amount of time.
You see, I have lived in New York for a few months a few years back, and I have visited many times before and after, so I know the city well. Being the generous soul that I am (pat pat!) I thought I’d help you by creating a great 3-days-in-New-York itinerary. I am also sharing some hacks that will help you skip the lines at the most popular attractions, get the best views, and save a buck or two.
Follow my tips carefully, and you’ll have a blast.
How To Use This New York In 3 Days Itinerary
In drafting this itinerary, my assumption will be that you are spending 3 days in New York, also sleeping there 3 nights, and possibly 4. To make the most of this itinerary, consider the following:
AN EARLY START IS A MUST – Head out no later than 8:00 am. It’s tiring, but worth it.
HAVE LUNCH ON THE GO – You’ll have time to sit down for a full meal for dinner.
SKIP-THE-LINE TICKETS ARE NECESSARY – You need to book most attractions in advance. Don’t worry, I will point out when it’s necessary.
TIMINGS FOR VISITING ATTRACTIONS ARE JUST ESTIMATE – You may be the kind of person to spend hours at a museum, or just breeze through it. The timings I give are just average.
KEEP THE PACE – With just 3 days in New York, you don’t have time for detours, or to be spontaneous. But don’t worry: you will be visiting famous landmarks as well as hidden gems.
Finally, continue reading to discover what to see and do in New York in 3 days.
A Fantastic Itinerary For 3 Days In New York
Map of day 1
Click here to review your itinerary and get an idea of the walking distances. You can rearrange the order of necessary!
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
With 3 days in New York, you really can’t skip the Statue of Liberty. The most iconic attraction and the very symbol of the United States, the statue is actually located in New Jersey and was donated by France in the 19th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ferries to the Statue of Liberty depart from Battery Bark – the first one leaves at 8:30 am. Be there in advance because there is a line to get on board. I recommend getting the first ferry out, so you will be back to town by 12:30. You can have lunch right one you’re back in one of the many places around Battery Park.
Tours of the Statue of Liberty an Ellis Island last about 4 hours. If you think it’s too much, you may opt for a ferry ride around the statue, which lasts around 60 minutes. You can book it here.
Make sure to read my post A Complete Guide To Visiting The Statue Of Liberty.
9/11 Memorial and Museum
If you have 3 days in New York you don’t have an excuse to skip this attraction!! Where the Twin Towers once stood, you will now find the 9/11 Memorial – twin reflecting pools and a man-made waterfall that’s the largest in North America, as well as bronze plaques that report the name of those who died in the terrorist attacks of 1993 and 2001. The museum has an interesting exhibit about the facts of 9/11.
You will need to get tickets in advance to visit. You can get this option. Visiting will take you about 2 hours.
Check out my post “How To Get 9/11 Museum Tickets And Skip The Lines.”
World Trade Center Observatory
If you keep your timings, you should be at the World Trade Center Observatory by 3:30 pm or so. This is one of the best places in town to get birds-eye views – after all, with its 541 meters (almost 1775 feet!) this is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, located in the exact same spot where the World Trade Center was before 9/11.
A marvel of architecture, the Oculus works as the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, and is a fun shopping mall. In fact, it’s a good place to have a short break and a coffee or snack before you continue exploring the city.
Wall Street is really close to the World Trade Center and on the way to Brooklyn Bridge. As you walk by, make sure to observe the statue of the Charging Bull and that of the Fearless girl, and the exterior of NYC Stock Exchange. You can also pop into Trinity Church, which is close by. With its gothic style, this Episcopalian Parish is definitely at odds with its surroundings and an interesting sight. The annexed cemetery is where Alexander Hamilton is buried.
Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Heights
The first ever suspension bridge, completed in 1883, Brooklyn Bridge connects lower Manhattan to Brooklyn across the East River and it’s the perfect place to end your first day in New York. Depending on when you visit New York, you will get there in the late afternoon or evening, in time for a fantastic sunset or to admire the skyline of Manhattan when it is beautifully illuminated.
Once you get off the bridge, take it left to walk through Brooklyn Bridge Park and reach Brooklyn Heights, the first suburb of New York City. This is a truly charming area, with Victorian style buildings, historic churches and – once you get to Brooklyn Promenade – stunning views that span all the way to New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.
Brooklyn is also home of DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass), one of the most iconic places to visit in New York. If you still have energy left, head over for some fun shots and more views.
For a private tour of Brooklyn led by an urban historian, click here.
Map of day 2
Here you can find the map for your second day in New York. I point at the MET as the starting point, but you can change it for another museum as they are all close to Central Park anyways.
OPTION 1: Metropolitan Museum of Art
If you are spending 3 days in New York, you only have time to properly visit one museum.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) if one of the best art galleries in the world, with a wide collection that includes pieces from ancient Egypt all the way to the modern era. It’s massive – ideally you need a full day to see it all,;so study the map closely and pick which collections you want to see.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: MET opens Thursday to Monday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is $25. To skip the line can get your tickets online here or here. Re-admissions are allowed so you can leave and come back on the same day to continue exploring.
OPTION 2: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
MoMA is home to some truly iconic works of modern art such as those of Vincent van Gogh (you get to see is Starry Night), or Warhol (you will find the Campbell’s Soup). Included in the collection there are also works by Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso, Dali and Pollock.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: MOMA is open every day from 10.30 am to 5:30 pm. Admission is $25. You can get skip-the-line tickets here.
OPTION 3: The Guggenheim
Another iconic museum of New York, the Guggenheim Museum is famous for its collection as much as for its building which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The gallery opened in 1959. The hosted exhibits change regularly, so check what’s on before going.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The museum is Thursday to Monday, from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is $25. You can get tickets here.
Once you are done visiting the museum, head to lunch. You can opt for The Plaza Food Hall, located at the southern entrance of Central Park and perfect for a quick grab, or to Sarabeths Central Park South, a more upscale restaurant.
This massive park (a whopping 315 hectares) is a fun place to explore and, quite importantly, it is also free to visit. You can walk around or even rent a bike to get to all the most iconic spots. You can book your bike rental here.
Among the main landmarks in the park there are Strawberry Fields, aka John Lennon’s memorial; Bethesda fountain and terrace; Belvedere Castle; the Lake and Gapstow Bridge.
RESPONSIBLE TOURIST TIP: Horse pulled carriage are unfortunately still a thing in Central Park. Don’t ride them – the poor horses are truly stressed!
Read more about responsible tourism on my post “The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler.”
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Located on Fifth Avenue, near the south corner of Central Park, you will find St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a Gothic style church first inaugurated in 1878. You can pop in for a quick visit.
Rockefeller Center and Top of the Rock
At a short distance from the Cathedral, the Rockefeller Center is a series of buildings in Art Deco style that were commissioned by the oil magnate Rockefeller. Famous for the Christmas tree (you really have to go if you happen to be in New York around that time of year), connected to the center you will also find the Top of the Rock, a 1930s Art Deco skyscraper. From there you can get impressive views of Midtown and Downtown.
Grand Central Terminal
Since this is one of the city’s main transportation hubs, chances are you may go by it regularly during your 3 days in New York. If not, make it a point to go as the building, dating back to 1913 is actually stunning. There are shops, restaurants and more.
Times Square screams New York. Seen in movies, TV shows and news reports, it’s close to Grand Central Terminal and in the heart of Downtown Manhattan, so easy to get to. Fun during the day, it’s glowing at night.
Map of day 3
Here is a map for your last day in New York.
One of the nicest parks in New York, Bryant Park is close to New York Public Library and significantly less touristy than Central Park. Once a mecca for drug dealing and prostitution, it was renovated in the 1990s and it now is a gathering place for people who practice yoga and martial arts. Head there in the early morning for a higher chance to see people buzzing about.
Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is the most famous skyscraper in Manhattan. Completed in 1931, back then this was the tallest building in the world. It may not be the tallest building in town, but the views from its deck are absolutely stunning. In fact, if you only go up one skyscraper during your 3 days in New York, it has to be this one.
You need around 90 minutes to visit the Empire State Building, and you must get tickets in advance. You can consider this Empire State Building Observatory tickets, or, as a great alternative, this Empire State Building day and night entry.
Located on Fifth Avenue at the end of Madison Square, the Flatiron Building was completed in 1902 and with its 87 meters and iron shape it is one of the oldest and oddest skyscrapers in New York.
The High Line is one of the best new and free attractions in town. This railway viaduct had been abandoned in the 1980s. It was then turned into an elevated park of about 2 km designed by Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf. It opened again in 2009 and cuts through Midtown Manhattan from Chelsea Market and goes all the way to Greenwich.
Chelsea Market, on 75 Ninth Avenue (between 15th and 16th st.), is a fantastic place to stop for lunch. My favorite place there is Miznon, a very popular Israeli chain where you can have stuffed pita and veggie sides (try the grilled cauliflower).
One of the most charming neighborhood in Manhattan, it would be a pity not to visit when you are spending 3 days in New York. The filming location of many series – Sex And The City fans will be happy to find Carrie Bradshaw apartment – it’s a pleasant place for a walk.
Washington Square Park
Close to Greenwich Village and on your way to Little Italy, this is a nice park with a marble arch and an assembly place for artists and bohemians and for families with children.
A fun neighborhood to explore, with nice boutiques and great bars, but my Italian palate can’t refrain from letting you know that the food you’ll find there is good, but not authentic Italian.
Just across Canal Street from Little Italy, Chinatown is must see neighborhood for the many attractions, interesting shops, and good restaurants, and a pleasant place to walk around. It is nice and busy, with quirky looking signs and lots of shopping opportunities that go from traditional Chinese produce to more high-end boutiques.
OPTION 1: Broadway
With 41 theaters, New York is one of the best places in the world to see a show. Some theaters in Broadway have signs dating back to more than a century ago!
You will have many shows to pick from – it’s not cheap, but if you look carefully you may find a good deal. Make sure to check the calendar of the shows you may be interested in.
OPTION 2: Metropolitan Opera House
If you are into shows but of a more sophisticated kind, drop Broadway and head to the Metropolitan Opera House instead. Located in Lincoln Center, this massive modernist building is quite a sight from the outside. The stage is huge and the perfect setting for incredible show, with literally hundreds of actors and an incredible scenography.
Practical Tips To Make The Most Of New York In 3 Days
Consider getting A 72 Hours New York Pass
A New York Pass may be a good idea to enjoy up to 41% off certain attractions, and to get skip-the-line tickets. Some also include transportation.
Where to stay in New York
There are many good places to stay in New York. Manhattan is a great choice location-wise, as it is very central – but it can be chaotic. I am also a big fan of Brooklyn, though some areas are a bit far from the attractions mentioned in this itinerary. I have selected a few places to stay:
- WEST VILLAGE PENTHOUSE STUDIO – Lovely VRBO in the heart of the village, perfect for a couple or a solo traveler.
- EQUINOX HOTEL HUDSON YARDS – If you have the budget to splurge, it certainly is a great option.
- SHERATON TRIBECA – A bit old fashioned but the views from the room are stunning.
The map below allows you to compare hotels and Airbnbs in New York. You can click to enlarge it and find a place within your budget range and in your favorite location.
How to get to New York
New York is super well connected to the rest of the US and the world. You can look for cheap flights with Skyscanner. Keep in mind there are 3 airports, but the best to fly into is JFK. From there, you have several ways of getting to the city:
AIRTRAIN – Tickets cost only $8 making it the most budget friendly option. There are 3 different lines.
SHUTTLE – Easy, comfortable and moderately priced, starting at $20. Book in advance here.
TAXI – With a flat rate of $52 + the tolls and a $4.50 surcharge during peak hours (between 4:00 and 8:00 pm on weekdays), it’s ideal if you are traveling in a small group.
UBER – Same prices as taxis (unless you get Uber Pool which is slightly cheaper), but you need the app and internet connection to book it.
How to move around
When I drafted this itinerary, my idea what to have you visit places that are close to each other on the same day, so that you only have to rely on public transportation to get to the starting point of the itinerary, and to get back to your room once you are done exploring.
With this in mind, I recommend getting around by subway. A ride costs $3 USD, but if you get the Metro Card it costs $2.75 – it works on a top up basis and it’s reusable. The subway works 24/7 – though service is limited at night.
New York also has a great web of buses, and plenty of yellow cabs and Uber.
Other useful tips
Dangers and annoyances
Like any other tourist destination, New York is not immune from pickpockets (most typically in crowded places such as the subway) and scams. The main ones you have to beware of are the Staten Island ferry scam – which is free, so steer away from anyone trying to sell you tickets; and the cartoon character costumes scam in Times Square – they will demand moneys for photos. Also watch out for taxi scams.
Luggage storage in New York
If you have to leave your accommodation but still have time to explore, you may be better off placing your luggage in storage. LuggageHero has storage places in Grand Central Terminal, Port Authority Bus Terminal, Penn Station, and Times Square – make sure to book it ahead of time.
Useful things to have
- A guide book – I recommend the DK Eyewitness New York City guide;
- A Data Plan – For using apps such as Google Maps or Uber; make sure to also download offline maps;
- Travel insurance – Get yours here and read why you need it here.
Further readings about the United States
Are you planning a trip to the United States? Make sure to read my other posts:
- 35 Incredible Things To Do In New York City
- Where To Get The Best Views In New York
- A Great Itinerary For A Week In New York
- A Wonderful Itinerary For A Day In New York
- The Perfect Itinerary To See New York In 2 Days
- An Easy To Follow Itinerary For 4 Days In New York
- 5 Days In New York: An Easy To Follow New York Itinerary
- A Great Itinerary For 3 Days In San Francisco
- The 10 Best Places To Visit In California (That Aren’t Just Cities)
- 15 Unmissable Things To Do In California
- 10 Things To Do For A Fabulous Trip To Miami
- Seven Adrenaline Filled Things To Do In Yellowstone (With Kids!)
- 10 Not To Miss Hikes Near Denver